Supergroups in the metal world have one thing in common and that is hype. If there is one thing a new supergroup can generate in spades weeks and even months before the music sees the light. its hype. The online machinery of publicity can plant the seed of expectation and keep on watering it until the fruit is ready. The gamble here though is that no one knows if the fruit will be fresh or rotten. High expectations can be a double edged sword and if an album doesn’t match up to the build-up, the collapse will most likely be inevitable and irreversible. Finland’s Barren Earth is one of the most exciting supergroups on the metal scene right now and they have successfully lived up to the billing by delivering consistently solid efforts; their third album On Lonely Towers being their latest installment.
For the uninitiated, this melodic death metal horde features two ex-Amorphis members, bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson, Kreator guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö and the prolific Marko Tarvonen of Moonsorrow, October Falls and Thy Serpent fame on the drums. On Lonely Towers is the debut of new vocalist Jón Aldará from the Faroe Islands who has replaced the venerable Mikko Kotamäki from Swallow the Sun and Koulemanlaakso who has handled vocal duties for Barren Earth on the first two releases. So despite having fairly large shoes to fill, the Faroese throat master doesn’t take long before making his mark on the album. After a fairly uneventful piano intro, Aldará leads an auditory trek into the Finnish wilderness on ‘Howl’ and he immediately marks his territory in the band.
As a whole body of work, On Lonely Towers has a groovier feel to it thanks to the slowed-down tempo in a lot of parts and the fact that it’s actually eighteen minutes longer than its predecessor The Devil’s Resolve. ‘Frozen Processions’ is the first track that points to this inclination to more groove but it’s not overwhelming and the darker, more aggressive parts are still there. ‘A Shapeless Derelict’ for example displays a balance between haunting barks and delicate serenades. The title track on the other hand, one of two eleven minute epics on this record, is rife with complex layering, commanding growls and some breathtaking lead guitar work. There’s also an experimental side to the band that shows on ‘Sirens of Oblivion’ as the saxophone makes a guest appearance in a very jazzy part and intermingles with the heavy distortion with great effect.
This album is definitely a step forward in Barren Earth’s career and it is starting to make them look more like a serious long-term band rather than a side project for busy musicians. One imagines it is never easy to see a vocalist as skilled as Mikko Kotamäki leave the fold but they did find a very capable replacement in Jón Aldará. His style overlaps with what Barren Earth have done in the past but he did introduce a more refined clean vocals element that just wasn’t there before. His singing style, which may sound a little too theatrical to some fans, has added some richness to the overall sound and it definitely compliments the grooves and hooks they’ve employed here. Barren Earth is not a backdoor band for these musicians; it’s a living, breathing animal with an identity of its own.
Barren Earth’s On Lonely Towers gets…